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Tournament a vision of how good football could be

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By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002


Awaken the self-serving dinosaurs of college football: conference commissioners who sadly shortchange America with their Bowl Championship Series.

They, along with network TV co-conspirators, should not be allowed to look away from a single scoreboard tick, nary a definitive shot or any of March's repetitive, competitive basketball joys.

Maybe, if there is a collective BCS heart, the football flimflammers at last can be inspired.

This weekend is entertainingly shaving 65 teams to a Sweet 16, with the Final Four just 13 days away. It's an extraordinary system, generating a competitive buzz from Atlantic to Pacific, charmed by both victorious delirium and excruciating defeats, offering mesmerizing pursuits by adorable underdogs as well as long-established men's basketball schools.

If it weren't for BCS manipulators, limiting us to a so-called "national championship game" between two participants chosen by the most controversial system this side of Olympic figure skating, the grandeur that is March Madness could unquestionably be surpassed by football's "January Joy."

It's an argument I have raised a dozen times. A huge public majority agrees. When put to a poll, there is always landslide support. But because BCS boobs prefer to retain personal clout rather than creating a far better system with a bonafide, captivating football tournament, and because their TV partners keep being dumb enough to buy into such a clunking scheme, the masses get cheated.

There will not be a change until ABC, ESPN, CBS, NBC, TBS and Fox play a bit of video collusion, shouting out about the inadequacies of the BCS system and hopefully triggering a dramatic downtrend in rights fees. Until then, there will be no valid football tournament, perhaps with 16 universities getting a shot, playing it out over four weekends in 15 established bowls, delivering something even tastier than the Final Four and maybe even the NFL's Super Bowl.

* * *

DUNKS: I'm surprised some greedy toymaker hasn't created a Mike Tyson doll; a bubblehead bobblehead that shimmies with disgust. ... Only a whiz at Baseball Jeopardy is apt to know this: What major-leaguer, a man of the late 20th century, was the best ever at not grounding into double plays? (answer is coming). ... Remember the conditional third-round draft pick the Dolphins presented New Orleans in trading for Ricky Williams? For payment to the Saints, the kid who was Mike Ditka's everything must gain at least 1,200 yards next season for Miami. Place your bets, keeping in mind that the Fins offense is now bossed by Norv Turner who, in the past 10 seasons with the Cowboys, Redskins and Chargers, has coached seven 1,200-and-up rushers, including Emmitt Smith (twice), Terry Allen (twice), Stephen Davis (twice) and LaDainian Tomlinson.

READER'S SHOUT: E-mail from Scott Nelson says, "We get down to Clearwater from our home in Minnesota for a few weeks. For 10 years the Times, especially the sports section, has been something to look forward to.

"At first, this time, when I found your work missing, I figured you must've retired or died. But then your column appeared on Sunday."

HUBERT'S REPLY: Happy it was the latter option.

DRIBBLES: Whether it's a Yokahoma golfer at the Masters, a Tokyo tennis hope at Wimbledon or some Olympian from Osaka, athletes from Japan are granted the most voluminous in home-country media coverage, but it's interesting to see my pal Scott Ostler from the San Francisco Chronicle write, "Japanese baseball players in America treat Japanese media like lepers. Ichiro Suzuki barely spoke to a legion of Japanese scribes who followed him all of last season." ... Trivia answer: Don Buford, best remembered as an Oriole outfielder, hit into only 33 double plays in 4,553 career at-bats, one every 138 times up. ... Steve Spurrier is being nicked by D.C. media needles because the former UF coach keeps adding ex-Gators to his Redskins posse, including Danny Wuerffel, Reidel Anthony and Chris Doering. ... Am I wrong, or are there five big-league sports nicknames that get double use among hockey, basketball, baseball and football franchises? I count the Panthers (Carolina NFL, Florida NHL), Kings (Los Angeles NHL, Sacramento NBA), Giants (San Francisco MLB, New York NFL), Rangers (New York NHL, Texas MLB) and Cardinals (St. Louis MLB, Arizona NFL). So why was Tampa Bay's ballclub so queasy about stealing a better, less-devilish nickname from a bunch of Hawaiian minor-leaguers who call themselves Sting Rays?

Whatever happened to Cecil Fielder?

-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail mmizell02@earthlink.net or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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